Mufflers, guns and small business
VEGAS INC Coverage
The free enterprise system and gun ownership are two of the better-known aspects of our American culture, and this being Las Vegas, where almost anything can be seen or done, I recently came upon an intersection of the two worlds.
You’re reading this publication, so you’re probably comfortable enough with the topic of free enterprise. But guns may be another matter, and I should note that I don’t condone their casual availability or the violence so often associated with them. However, I have long respected their significance as a news topic.
I learned early on in this business that whenever there was a shortage of letters to the editor, one quick solution was to write an editorial about gun control. It hardly mattered which side of the issue we were on; plenty of letters from proponents and opponents poured in regardless.
I learned early on, too, that I liked target shooting, in arcades or with real guns when the conditions are right, which means miles from anywhere.
In case you didn’t know, indoor shooting ranges are all the rage now, so when I was alerted to one right in the middle of town, and found that it also represents the latest evolutionary phase of a small business, I had little choice but to investigate further.
The Guns & Ammo Garage sits rather inconspicuously on Dean Martin Boulevard, next to the Performance Muffler Shop from which it was spawned under the hard-working ownership of Overton native Mark Cole.
Cole had built a nice business with his muffler shop, ultimately specializing in customizing those little off-road four-wheelers. Like the rest of the known world, he didn’t foresee the downturn that would cut hard into recreational spending. When it hit, though, he quickly began to search for new opportunities to replace lost revenue. After all, he had a built-in focus group.
“I’ve always just listened to my customers,” he said. “I started them asking questions about what was next.”
Guns, they told him.
Though skeptical at first, he did recognize that many customers who were bringing in their four-wheelers were outdoor enthusiasts who also owned guns. So he got going, applying for a federal firearms license, petitioning Clark County for a special use permit for his location and forming a partnership with Las Vegas native Darby Neagle.
On Dec. 1, 2010, the front half of the Guns & Ammo Garage opened, next to Performance Muffler, with a limited selection of firearms for sale. Then in mid-January, he opened a dedicated, soundproof shooting range in the rear part of the building. This added a whole new dimension. Now, for a decent price, customers get the chance to use firearms they might otherwise never even have access to.
“Most people who come in here don’t have weapons like this where they came from, or they can’t own them,” Cole observed, as a new group walked in. “It’s kind of fun to watch them.”
The new dimension is transforming his business. As we spoke, the place was filling up with both genders and adults of all ages.
“This is a Tuesday, so this is awesome,” he said, nodding.
The range closes at 7 p.m., which helps in avoiding customers who may have been drinking. As with a few other fun activities around town, bachelor parties make for good prospective customers. He’d earlier had a group of Russians visit, including one of their law enforcement authorities.
“Usually, people who come in are nervous, because a lot of them are first-time shooters,” he said. “Then they get excited. There’s a lot of adrenaline when they get the gun. Then they’re happy at the end. It’s like four emotions, super fast.”
When guns are your business, you really need trained employees and a safe environment, both of which are evident onsite. After he and the staff gave me instructions and ear protection, I entered the range, where I requested a Thompson submachine gun, the type of firearm used in old mob films. It’s not designed for sharpshooting, so I ended up barely peppering a target that was not so far away.
Cole says he’s never put together a formal business plan. In addition to his customers and the partnership with Neagle, he credits plain hard work for much of his success, and cites that as his biggest edge in business.
“My competitors give up after 40 hours,” Cole said, a quote he attributed to the late construction industry icon J.A. (Jay) Tiberti, and an appropriate enough credo for a successful small businessman in any industry.